Here is a short story to wet the appetite for the upcoming Monster’s Children Novel by Daniel Hansen
You can also find this story on PDF here.
And now as yet unedited but still ready for you to enjoy:
The Monster’s Offer
The good days of peace were gone for Hempel. The peace of the war was gone, replaced by the struggle to come to terms with the death of her family. Her Lord Tala, the Raven, had many warriors, but only six Weapon Holders. Six Chosen down to one in short order. Hempel’s family decimated. Hempel was the last, would be the last, must not be the last. She would find Carlisle and repay him for the deaths of her family. Tala had decreed that until Carlisle was at an end and the Raven Sword he had stolen returned no new Chosen would be lifted above the other warriors in his armies. The Chosen of Coyote were off fighting another battle. The Chosen of Fox were hidden in the shadows. And the Chosen of Uazit, well they had been gone from the world for generations for very good reason. She had only herself to face the forces of Order. Hempel momentarily cursed her luck to have no tools other than herself to find and destroy Carlisle but if Tala thought she was enough then she would need to be enough. It would be difficult but if Hempel had not been stubborn she would have never survived the day she was born upon the ice.
Hempel felt her peace slip away from her heart as she recalled the fight in the desert against her hated foe. The dance had been a work of art in the history of warfare. They had first been smooth dancers paring off before the days of battle and exhaustion had made them animals slicing and hacking at one another. Hempel still shied away from the memory of the depths they had reached. They were both masters brought to the brink of barbarians through exhaustion. The shame of her draw still filled her throat with bile. A shame that drove her now with the rage of Tala filling her heart as she took on the warriors who faced her.
Hempel let her Ulu cut through the grey clad warrior before her in a smooth even stroke. The warriors around her were insects buzzing about. If she were an emotional person the violence would be an outlet, but Hempel had little to do with emotions. What she had was a task. The task to find the sword and end Carlisle. She swept back away from the dying warrior ducking down as her arms fanned out cutting through two more behind her. Without ever looking she felt their blood flow and bodies drop even as she danced ahead letting her blades cut deep into the next warrior. She had no thoughts about the death and wounds around her. Her goal was to end the fight, move forward, make the next step.
Her Ulus were made of Raven’s own feathers and they looked like nothing so much as black steel sparkling as darkly as the night sky. She held night in her hands, and those half-moon blades of darkness were stopped by nothing.
She felt the wind as a blade passed over her and she threw herself into the air flipping backward. Midair she took stock of the world around her. Four warriors still stood, seven were on the ground bleeding. Of those on the ground two still lived, though they were bleeding out rather quickly. Hempel had not meant for them to die painfully, but she was caught in the moment and mistakes happened. Before the rage, she had not known such mistakes, but the rage drove her. The four still standing held swords, and she took a moment to curse that they did not have guns. People with guns always overestimated their ability and died the faster. People with swords usually had at least attempted to practice.
Her body came full circle and her feet found earth. She stepped back one night dark blade before her face the other held low over her belly. The four remaining warriors circled before her. They were wearing their loose fitting grey clothing. The forces of the Queen always wore grey uniforms much like dull ninjas in the old black and white samurai flicks Hempel had learned to love during the second world war. Her own comfortable hand woven clothing was pastels with hand stitched decorations around the cuffs and collar. Today was a light blue cotton with pink and green decorated flowers on the high square collar she had stitched herself. Hempel thought the Queen was missing out on real individuality with her choice in grey everything for her armies. But then why should the Queen care about individuality for such low-level soldiers.
Hempel settled into her forms and felt her body balance. She searched within herself for the tranquility and peace she once knew amid battle, but the itch of Carlisle still breathing kept that peace away. She had fought him once to a standstill, but their next meeting she would end him. Even without peace she found her balance as her weight rested upon the balls of her feet, and the blades she held rested comfortably in her hands. Balance was all she had known, that and stubbornness.
A grey clad woman swung her sword high and back down, but Hempel’s right ulu was out catching the blade upon its half-moon surface in a clang of metal on metal. Her blades were dark as night with light catching the many veins throughout. She knew it looked as if she held the stars of the night in her hands. The low-level light caught and reflected along the blades in cuts and breaks making an array of smoky death.
The ulu was sharper and better made then the sword. It cut partway through the steel blade. Hempel was partially grateful the woman had not struck harder as the blade may have been cut in half and finished its arc toward her face. Hempel spun in a silent dance bringing her left hand around letting the ulu held there open the woman’s stomach. The move brought her full circle, and she pulled the right blade from the sword and swung around behind her. Before the woman could fall Hempel stepped one foot onto her knee and ran up and over the falling body. She landed blade deep in the next grey clad warrior, which in seconds became a grey clad corpse. She pulled her ulus free and turned and flecked the blood off them.
Hempel hated blood on her blades, it seemed to dull them and cause them to catch the air, slowing their movement. She loved the feel of clean even steel passing through the air. Proper care of her blades was one of the first lessons she had learned. Lessons she held dear as all who had taught them were now dead. Dead by Carlisle’s hand. She felt the silent tug pulling her to end him. She needed to end him, she could not stop the driving need Tala filled her with.
Two warriors remained. Hempel laughed inside in a failed attempt to clear the itch and she flicked her ulus once more before sliding them into their sheaths at her sides. She cocked her head to the side in attempt to crack her neck, giving thanks that her jet-black hair was cut short and would not bother her sight lines. She knew her reddish-caramel colored skin glowed in the low light and the birthmark across her face created shadows along the one side. Her native features shown through the high cheek bones and dusky skin. She knew that her youngish looks and lithe frame were far from intimidating. She knew she looked like a small dark doll. None of that should have mattered seeing as her legend proceeded her, not to mention she had just cut through their entire force.
She shook her head as the two men charged toward her, completely ignoring the obvious danger that Hempel represented even now that she was bare handed. Her short stature and feminine form had created a sense of superiority in the two large male warriors. The closest warrior swung his sword at Hempel’s head with his strong manly arms. She caught the blade and spun around sliding against him and into his guard. Her back was pressed against his chest. She twisted and pulled relieving him of his weapon and slammed the back of her head into his face. She felt the crunch of bone cracking under the back of her head. She stepped away flipping the sword in the air. The second warrior charged toward her as she caught the flipping sword by the hilt and knocked the warrior’s weapon away before driving the stolen blade into his chest.
The man died as a Hempel turned to the warrior with a broken nose and bleeding face. She had disarmed him, and cracked his face. She had killed his forces and left him alone bleeding. She walked to him now and gently took his hand in her own. It was warm and covered with callouses of a sword fighter along the palm. She broke his index finger. She wanted to break him further, and she would if he did not answer.
“Where is Carlisle?”
“I asked politely. Where is Carlisle?” She forced the man to his knees still holding him by his broken finger. She sought serenity.
“I don’t know, I don’t fucking know.”
Hempel reached down and pushed her finger into the man’s left eye feeling the soft squish as her digit slid in. “Where is he?”
The man screamed in agony as he tried to pull back only to find himself held tight still by the broken finger. Hempel felt the all-pervasive itch of Tala’s rage, and she took a breath. She was not a creature of anger and brutality but a creature of smooth artistry. She counted; one, two, three. Her calm returned and she steadied her mind. Hempel leaned over him, breathing her soft breath into his face, waiting.
“I apologize, that was uncalled for. Please, where is Carlisle.”
“I don’t know, please, I don’t know.”
Hempel shook her head; the man just was not being cooperative. She broke another finger and pulled his head closer looking deep into the man’s one good eye. The man began to cry and Hempel turned her head considering. She was calm, she breathed in the calm, and she imparted part of it into the man, willing him to know his fate. Her serenity was a serpent crawling into his being and giving him peace. She felt her spirit smoother his own.
“He is in the caves, the caves in the Shabo desert. He stays there to be close to the City. Please, he is in the caves.” The man began to weep.
“The desert is large; how would I find them?”
“They are at the base of the mountains, the only mountains in the desert, please believe me.”
Hempel leaned back on her heals considering this creature before her. It was a man, but not a human man. She sniffed at it and tasted the scent of a speaking animal. But he had not the shape of a speaking animal. Somehow, he looked as if he was human. She idly wondered why the Queen would do such a thing, but it did not matter. What mattered was that she could smell truth on him. She could smell his fear of death and his need to grovel. She had broken him, and she knew he would not defy her again. Her spirit overlaid his own.
“You will go now, you will leave this place, and you will find him for me in these caves. You will tell Carlisle that he will come to me. He will find me, and I will end him. Remind him that I have his daughter still in the bosom of the Raven and she will die most painfully if he does not bring the Sword to me. We are near a city I believe to the West of us. Tell him I will await him there.”
She looked at the man’s one good eye making sure his look was one of understanding. She felt the understanding as she pulled her spirit from him. She tilted her head to the side and considered him before plucking the good eye out and leaving the man to weep in his blindness.
Hempel was shaken by the damage she had done. Such brutality was not her way. She struggled to find her peace, but she found only the rage of Tala within her. Ever since Carlisle had killed the others she had felt this rage bubbling deep within her. Tala had always been serenity, but Carlisle had broken that peace. She reached for her peace. She wanted a return to what was. Back when she had been tranquil. But serenity was gone and the itch drove her. The anger of her god was overwhelming. She took a breath and sipped her tea. She knew Carlisle would come. He wanted the weapons and she had them. She was the last of the Weapon Holders, and he would come to end the line of the Raven in the name of Order. The Queen would demand that battle of him, just as Tala demanded it of her.
The coffee shop Hempel had chosen was a low-key hipster joint with men and women on laptops sipping on java all around her. She was fascinated by how many of the establishment’s patrons were female. The females ranged from teenagers to old women, while only a few middle-aged males sat here and there. She wondered if it was the industry or perhaps this country or state. She thought for a second that she was in a place called Oregon, but such human titles had ceased to matter to her many centuries before. She sipped her tea again and waited for the man of the hour to appear.
The tension between peace and rage within her ticked the hours away. She counted the increased anger within her ratcheting up to mark the time. It was a pain. Her whole life before this had been one of peaceful violence. Each cut a work of art, but her days as an artist felt gone as she screamed inside for Carlisle. He took his time but did not disappoint.
He sat his cup down on the small table between them about the time the weight of the itch reached its peak. He was dressed in an immaculate suit and tie and a calm smile rested upon his Arabic features. He looked to have come from the desert, though the sands of the desert were absent from his manicured perfection.
“You sent for me dear one.” His voice felt as tailored as his clothing. Hempel sighed at the sound. Missing what once had been.
“You brought the Raven Sword that is good.”
“I brought many things, this will be the end of Tala’s Chosen. The end of all but one.”
“So, we hope.” She took a calming breath and sipped her tea. She looked at him, in his well-dressed, immaculately clean demeanor. “You brought your forces of Order.”
“Of course, we are here to bring order. You still claim you fight for freedom dear one, but we both know you fight for chaos. There can be no more chaos. We must find a way forward to bring law.”
“There be no peace with a boot upon our necks Carlisle.”
“Oh Hempel.” Any other words he had wished to utter were silenced as her empty mug slammed against his face knocking him and his chair back across the room. The warriors he had brought charged in cutting toward her and she threw herself back crashing through the window to land unhindered upon the sidewalk outside. The gentle tinkling of broken glass pattered around her feet.
Her hands reached out catching a driving sword and snapping the arm and sword around into the neck of the wielder. She pulled the sword free and dove into a smooth roll coming up to drive the blade into the stomach of another warrior before dancing back with the weapon above her head held in the universal stance of swordsmen daring anyone to come near. An army of warriors circled her as the humans scattered in fear. There was no fear in Hempel as she caught her breath and steadied her mind. She snapped her neck first left and then right breathing deep. These warriors would meet their own blades in death.
They did not charge in but circled as Carlisle walked out of the building. He moved in his own unhurried way, bringing his cultured aura to the street. Between the two great warriors the street was a higher class then it had been without them. They were two jewels of yesteryear. Gems sparkling, reflecting each other. Carlisle with the weight of a grey clad army at his back while Hempel had only screaming and running civilians. The night sky was long and sharp in his hands as he raised the Raven Sword above him. It was as deep and dark as her own ulus, and the night sky cracked and sparkled as it reflected the sun. Hempel had a moment to wonder if she would live through this before he struck.
Sparks flew as black blade met the metal of the stolen sword she held. She slid under and through his guard. They moved with a blur of strikes and parries. The steady slap of metal on metal clanged through the street as she felt the stolen blade first nick then break away leaving only the hilt in her hand. She dropped it and dived through his guard rolling as she pulled her ulus and spun back around to catch his killing strike between them. They looked deeply into each other’s eyes as he pressed down and she pressed up.
“We are evenly matched dear one.”
“And yet I will kill you traitor.”
“If we were alone, perhaps. But you are alone, and I am not.”
The sharp swipe of a steel blade cut toward her side making her dodge releasing the pressing sword of night. She narrowly missed another swipe as she cut through a grey clad warrior and realized she was surrounded by enemy combatants. It had been too much to hope that Carlisle would fight fair. The forces of Order cared only about their justice, never about their honor.
Hempel caught one blade then dived under another before spinning up and through a warrior’s guard cutting necks and arms as she flipped and turned in a dance of life and death. Carlisle took every advantage to cut in with his blade of stars and she was hard pressed to parry any move let alone counter and strike back. He had brought too many warriors. She should have known he would not come to dual but to kill.
She could feel the hard strike of blades against her guard as she caught each strike and spun to slice flesh. Blades struck back, and as she killed she could feel the many cuts along her body start to take their toll. She was losing. She may take the army with her, but she could either fight the army or she could fight Carlisle; not both, not if she wished to live. Hempel juked back and rolled away coming back up in a defensive stance against the army aligned against her. Carlisle gloated as he raised his arms around him and began to laugh.
“Today I take the final Holder of the Raven Weapons. Today I bring order to even the jewels of the dark trickster.”
Before his words left the air, a small dark form drove its way into the heart of his warriors. A long obsidian sword cut this way and then that dropping grey clad forms as it cleaved its way through the masses. Hempel took no time to register what the form was before she dived forward herself. She felt flesh bitten by her steel as she circled this way and then that. She dropped and jumped, leaned left and cut right, feeling the deep cut of her weapons meeting bone and meat. The grey clad warriors dropped, and in a moment of breath Hempel realized she no longer had enemies to fight.
Carlisle was gone, leaving only the bodies of his warriors to indicate that he had ever been there. The street was bathed in a thin coating of blood and limp bodies lined the walkways. A small girl stood with a black sword gleaming before her face. Where the Raven Sword had reflected the light, this girl’s sword seemed to drink in the light. Hempel had never seen the girl who looked to be no more than a child. The body count between them though was not a child’s work. The girl had a child’s height and a stick thin frame. The long black sword in her hand drank in the light around her. A dark collar at her throat hugged tight like a choker, both it and her sword seemed made of obsidian. Blood covered the girl’s Asian features and long black hair.
A sharp cough brought Hempel’s attention to the left, to a blonde man who stood motionless among the bodies. He had a medium height and athletic build wrapped in a grey suit. A jade collar hugged his throat. He had not participated in the battle, and yet he did not look out of place among the carnage. The look on his face was one of boredom and yet he gave Hempel a smile that pretended to care. She had not seen him in decades.
“Hempel, it has been much too long.”
“Why are you here?”
“I have come with an offer from Uazit.”
“I have nothing to give the Spider, you may keep your crazy goddess.”
“Awe but you have so much to offer. You see the Tricksters have realized without Tala’s Chosen to fight they need warriors beyond the armies’ ability. They need my children. And my children need a teacher.”
“I have no time for children.”
“That is perplexing, Raven had indicated you may make time if we promised to assist in the hunt of Carlisle and the retaking of the Raven Sword.”
“Tala promised this?”
“It was indicated as a possibility that you would help. You would be the best to train my children. Nettle here already bonded with you in battle.”
Hempel looked at Alex and then over at the child. She closed her eyes and felt the itch drain away as the rage subsided with her choice. Tala would guide her, she would use the tools that were sent. As she made her decision the rage dissipated completely.
If you enjoyed the story check out the young adults that the children Hempel trains become in Dan’s first book in his Trickster’s War Series: “Monster’s Children”
For information on new stories and books check out Dan’s blog: Our Orchard.